Monday, September 19, 2011

1620 - Drive

I'm going to do a little something different for this review posting.  I didn't even know this film existed until I saw a friend's (Matt Williams) facebook posting going on and on about how amazing he thought it was - and so I found myself at a theatre last night at 10pm to see it (this is late for me).  And so what's below is our un-edited e-mail back-and-forth about the film.  Please proceed with extreme caution as we talk freely about the entire film so there are  

Jeremy:  So I went to see Drive.  I really enjoyed it.  I even dug the bad 80's soundtrack that they made work for it.  A few little things drove me nuts a bit, but the pros FAR outweighed the cons.  The only thing that really bothered me was just the focus on style over substance in some moments.  For example near the end, when he goes to kill Nino.  Absolutely no reason for him to bother with the mask besides the fact that it "looks cool" :)

Matt:  Nice, glad you liked it. I agree about the mask - upon rewatch today, I realized that it totally wasn't necessary. Nino never would have seen his face anyway, and if he had, like on the beach, it wouldn't have mattered. Also, in the elevator, when he sees the guy has a gun, he wouldn't take the time to kiss Irene before bashing the dude's head in - the guy could kill him first. But, those moments worked for me, because sometimes style is substance (rarely, and only if done with complete precision). Plus, I don't tend to get bogged down with small details like that. The kiss, for example, represents something very important, even if realistically speaking, a normal person wouldn't turn their back on a guy who's about to kill them to give a girl a kiss.
It just all worked for me. A perfect film, in my opinion. And, imo, there's probably been only 6 or 7 of those in the past 5 years. The film really takes on the personality of the Driver, in a masterful way.... few films accomplish that with great effect. Recently, The Departed did a decent job of doing that. But I don't know if any film has done it like Drive. And it's fucking suspenseful as hell. I haven't felt that much tension since The Hurt Locker, or Breaking Bad for TV.
I LOVED the soundtrack. Just loved it.
I really hope, depending on what else is released this year, that Refn wins Best Director. Seriously one of the most well-directed films I've ever seen.

Jeremy: A perfect film is, obviously, a subjective thing.  Having spent the evening and morning thinking about it I'm not sure I can agree with a lot of what you're saying.  To me Drive was a REALLY well executed genre film.  It's gorgeous to look at, but I think that style does not equal substance, and I think that a large part of why film has taken a downturn in recent years is that people think that it does.  I can agree that it's a very well directed film, but I think that it's a stretch to think that he'll win, let alone get nominated.  With the exception of Tarantino (and he is the exception, not the rule) the academy doesn't really respond to genre films.  And this one in particular is missing the key ingredient to that - substance.  Gosling is essentially playing a more aesthetically pleasing version of Travis Bickle, minus all the stuff that makes Bickle a truly unique character and one that still stands out today.  And Carey Mulligan (who is absolutely adorable - I love her) is simply the damsel in distress - given how paper thin her character is, she makes up for it in wonderful ways by how she looks at him - and we can see her desire for someone to take care of her.  But that's all there is to her character, sadly.  She's just a male fantasy who is drawn, for reasons unknown, to sociopaths - both her husband and The Driver.  And The Driver's only redeeming qualities is that he protects those who need protecting (also for reasons unknown).  Albert Brooks and Bryan Cranston easily had the best characters in this film - the scene where Brooks kills Cranston could be the film's best.  It was so understated and simply, and yet mildly horrifying.  Loved it. 
As I mentioned with 'the mask' that was just an obvious example of how empty a lot of the decision making in this film was.  Things were often done because it 'looked cool'.  Christina Hendricks' (whom I also adore) character could have been completely cut out of the film and it wouldn't have made a difference at all - it would have been really easy to do.  But it looked cool to have a smoking hot woman help rob a store.  Her character made zero difference to the film.  The Driver had already met 'Cook' so it's not inconceivable that he could have found him on his own, or asked after him like he had to do anyway after Hendricks was killed.  The kiss, actually, was fine for me.  I saw it as The Driver using it to throw the gunman for a loop and confuse him, thereby giving The Driver the upper hand. 
The ending, in particular bothered me, in that it didn't fit.  Very often films like this go for a "down ending" because it's cooler than letting people be happy.  It made sense for The Driver to walk away with nothing, and for the other people who got involved, but Carey Mulligan's character should have at least walked away with the money.  She was an innocent and she was punished for no reason.  Had they have her get involved in a sexual relationship with The Driver then I could see her ending up with nothing, but as it is, she gets nothing and for no reason.  What's it to The Driver?  Why would he leave all that money with the body at the end?  Probably because it looked cool. 
Now, all this being said, it was very entertaining, and it was a visually great looking film.  But, for me, that's about all it was.  It's not something I imagine I'll ever need to revisit, nor something that I'll need to reference down the line.  Pretty much got everything I needed out of it the first time around.

Matt: I never said that I think he will win an Oscar, I said I hope he will, depending on what else comes out this year (it's a bit too premature to say for sure, especially since most of the best films come out in these next few months).
And I agree that style over substance is what destroys most modern films. That's why I walked out of The Tree of Life. That was almost entirely style over substance. But, sometimes style *can* be substance - Tarantino does it a lot (successfully making style also substance - he also fails a lot). And the Coens do it a lot. Or, in some situations, style isn't taking the front seat to substance; they're both side by side, which is the case with a lot of this film. The Driver is, as you say, essentially a Travis Bickle type character, but also more like Clint Eastwood's Man with No Name. More like him in that we know nothing about his past, and he doesn't seem to have much of a life - two things that Travis Bickle does have (though I guess he doesn't have much of a life either, but at least we see some of it). "Drive" is an existential study - it deals with those most important and basic of human emotions and needs, but does it better than any film in recent memory that I can think of. Mainly because of the acting. There is so much here in this film that couldn't have been on the page, unless the writer literally wrote "Driver thinks so and so." I knew every moment what the characters were thinking, despite them not saying anything. If that isn't the perfect storm of acting and directing, I don't know what is. Going off the existential idea - Nietzsche, as I'm sure you know, wrote of the Ubermensch - or "overman", sometimes "superman." What the Ubermensch really is is a person who has acquired total control of their life; someone with complete freedom. And the Driver is very much that - and when something threatens to unravel not only his freedom, but Irene's, he steps in and takes command. While I'd argue he has already, at the beginning of the film, achieved Ubermensch status, he doesn't fully realize it until the end of the film. And therein is why I'd also argue that this is much very a superhero origin story. So I think the Driver is very much a unique figure - he isn't stripped of character at all. He may not say much, but you know what he's feeling.
Existentialism also deals very much with guilt and regret - and when Standard is killed, Driver very much feels guilt and regret, which is not something an Ubermensch can feel. So his life is thrown out of whack by this. And to regain his ubermensch status - restore his life to normalcy - as well as ensure the protection of the kid and the girl, he does what he does. And why does he leave the money? Because Irene doesn't want it, and he doesn't want it - that isn't part of his goal. She doesn't get 'punished' - she outright rejects the money.
To me, it's a very philosophical film. Very existential, a lot like the recent The American or Le Samourai from the 60s. Many of the silent moments have great depth to them, and every shot is composed with care, precision, and meaning.
Yes, obviously perfection is a subjective thing. I don't deny that. Somebody could argue this is the worst movie in the past decade, and if they argued it with intelligence, I'd respect that opinion. I wouldn't agree - but I'd respect it. I respect your opinion of it, and other films, even if sometimes I do not agree. I once read a paper that argued Abraham Lincoln was the worst president ever. The writer didn't actually believe it, but they wanted to take that position and see if they could defend it. It was actually well-thought out and intelligent. Even if I (and most) don't agree.
For the record, to compare, the only other films in recent memory that I would call perfect, let's say the last five years, would be: The Wrestler, No Country for Old Men, The Hurt Locker, The Social Network, 4 Months 3 Weeks and 2 Days, A Serious Man, United 93, Chop Shop, Up in the Air, and this film. But that's just my opinion.

1 comment:

Carl S. said...

Excellent examination of the film. (Funny, the security word for this comment is "acting"). :)

- GameArs (On TS)